Voters Guide: City Commission candidates discuss the issues in their own words

Editor’s Note: The Journal-World asked each City Commission candidate in this year’s primary election to provide written responses to three questions regarding current issues facing the City of Lawrence. Each candidate was given 600 words in total to respond to the three questions. The Journal-World staff compiled a brief biography of each candidate using information from past interviews and their candidate filings and websites. The responses to each question, however, are entirely the candidates’ own words. The only editing the Journal-World did to the responses was for obvious typographical errors.

Incumbent Stuart Boley, 66, is a retired auditor with the Internal Revenue Service. Boley has lived in Lawrence since 1983 and was elected to the City Commission in 2015 and served as mayor in 2018. In the upcoming term, Boley said he’d like to see the city continue its progress in providing excellent city services to Lawrence residents at a reasonable cost, and that continuing work on the commission’s new strategic plan and priority based budgeting process would be important in that effort. Boley said addressing homelessness in the community and the ongoing process of cleaning up environmental containments at the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant would also be important.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

One significant change that I’d like to see in Downtown is an increase in places where people can live. The city has an opportunity to develop surface parking lots into residential properties or mixed use commercial and residential properties. The new projects would be able to incorporate the current number of parking spaces and additional parking for residents. Increasing the residential density of Downtown will benefit the community environmentally and financially by using our current footprint and our current investment in infrastructure. It will be important to incorporate affordable housing into the new residential properties and the city should ensure that there is significant permanently affordable housing Downtown.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?

The executive summary of the comprehensive study of our police department states, in part, “In listening to Department members of all positions, they are universally proud, want to serve Lawrence, and want to continue to improve. They do care about their community but are not as engaged with the community as much as contemporary policing necessitates. As the listening and interview summary in this study will report, the Department is very disconnected with many racial and ethnic groups. There is also the tension over the CPRB (Community Police Review Board) and how to provide effective community oversight.” This excerpt highlights the dedication and commitment of our police officers as well as opportunities for departmental improvement.

The report provides sixty key findings and seventy-five specific action item recommendations. For example, Finding #3 refers to current weaknesses in community policing and Recommendations #2 through #9 provide specific action items that can address those weaknesses. Another example is that Finding #60 points up friction between the Department and the Community Police Review Board. Recommendations #71 to #75 then provide a possible way forward to remedy this situation.

The report lays out needed improvements in wide ranging areas such as training and data gathering, but it also provides analysis of narrower areas as well. Following up on Finding #20, which states, “The current system for Animal Control Services processes and retrieval is not efficient.” will provide better service to Lawrence residents who have experienced undue difficulty in retrieving their pets.

The comprehensive study of the police department provides an opportunity for our community to come together around the issue of how the police department should operate. It is available at the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.

— What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

The city’s special, temporary incentive program for new industrial projects will sunset on April 1, 2022. We should extend this program due to its success. An example of this success is the U. S. Engineering project, which is expected to provide 140 jobs in its first four years of operation with average wages of $72,000. We should also be open to the ideas of our city manager, Craig Owens, because he is well informed about and experienced in economic development.

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Chris Flowers, 41, is a frequent public commenter and restaurant delivery driver. Flowers has lived in Lawrence since 1999. Flowers said what motivated him to run for the commission was his dissatisfaction with the bike boulevard the city recently created on 21st Street. Flowers said he doesn’t think the project was done right, and he wants changes to be made to improve it. He said other important issues for him are criminal justice reform, including ending the war on drugs, and identifying new ways of address the city’s affordable housing shortage. Flowers regularly attends City Commission and other local meetings and frequently speaks during the public comment periods.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

I’ll be honest, I have enough other ideas that might piss people off that I’m going to play the role of spineless politician and listen to the voters when it comes to downtown. I personally wouldn’t mind development along the riverfront but if there’s a project that floods city hall with angry citizens demanding I vote against it, I’ll probably vote against it. Downtown is the part of town people care about the most so it’s the part of town where I’ll most be trying to appease the masses with my vote. Personally I would hate to see our downtown without The Replay.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?

One change we need is to put a stop to the police union trying to work out secret deals with the city manager to get rid of the police chief and then a couple months later we end up paying the police chief to quit with no questions asked. What was up with that?!? Another change I’d like to see is using a mobile mental health crisis team instead of cops to deal with people who’ve gone coocoo without using any cocopuffs. Earlier this winter I came across someone who was drunk and distressed. I ended up driving him a few blocks to help him find a house he was looking for because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want the guy to end up arrested if cops were called. The police review that was done by the consultants from Citygate had other good recommendations, but one recommendation from it I am completely against is any increase in neighborhood watch programs. There was a story in The Lawrence Times about a family of color dealing with bigotry in their HOA. I can only imagine what that neighborhood watch would be like. Also, let’s quit participating in programs such as click it or ticket, DUI checkpoints, and police saturations.

— What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

That’s a bit of a loaded question because what qualifies as a higher paying job depends on how much you are currently making. For some $15 would be an insult but if you’re making $10 you’d be pretty happy. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think the city’s first priority should be trying to ensure livable wages for everyone. The simplest step in that direction is making sure we’re paying all of our city employees a livable wage. If you go to the city’s website and look at job openings, you’ll see some jobs starting in the $9-$11 range. Someone deserves more than $11 an hour for doing maintenance work. We can talk about bringing in high paying jobs, but I think we need to make sure the high paying jobs we bring to town are being filled by people already living here. If not we could be bringing in outsiders with good paying jobs to compete with those already struggling in the housing market. Speaking of the housing market, I’d just like to mention if it cost less to live here, then the bar would also be lowered for what some would consider to be a good paying job. When it comes to bringing new, well paying jobs to Lawrence, I’d be open to some of the ideas presented last year by the consultant Ernst & Young. This includes taking advantage of our resources such as Haskell University and Peaslee Tech or expanding the availability of high-speed broadband to ensure businesses have the infrastructure they need to come here.

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Ma’Ko’Quah Jones is the Sustainability Advisory Board chair and community organizer. Jones, a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, is the founder and chair of the Kansas Democratic Party Native American Caucus, a coordinator with the League of Women Voters of Kansas, and a Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education board member. Jones worked until 2019 as the environmental/GIS technician for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and has been living in Lawrence since 2015. Jones said that important issues for her include environmental justice, support for social service organizations and bringing underrepresented members of the community into politics.

What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

I would like to see downtown Lawrence design a pedestrian-only zone for part/or all of Mass Street. For businesses, pedestrian-only zones increase improved accessibility where pedestrians passing by their business increases significantly. A pedestrian-only zone offers a unique experience that online shopping cannot offer by adding a social component to the shopping experience. A more welcoming street environment generates increased revenue by increasing number of visitors and retail sales. This design would require more parking structures, such as parking garages. This would serve to decrease cars waiting at traffic lights or waiting for pedestrians to cross the street, which generates more car exhaust fumes and greenhouse gases being emitted. A more walkable downtown Mass Street would contribute to a better quality of life for Lawrence residents as a pedestrian-only zone would encourage walking, biking, or using the city bus reducing vehicle accidents. The city of Lawrence needs to focus on green infrastructure. Urban green infrastructure is an essential element in creating walkable streets. Green spaces contribute to urban biodiversity and an improved local microclimate, for example more trees bring shade and lower temperatures for their surrounding environment. The shade of trees has been evidenced to provide protection to pavements from pavement fatigue and cracking.

What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?

For starters, I want to see are actionable items that the Lawrence City Commission can do to improve police reform, biased policing and excessive use of force and police brutality. Accountability, oversight, community respect and limiting the scope of policing are core issues. Requiring the police force to adopt polices that reduce the use of excessive force can prohibit acts such as neck holds, head strikes with a hard object, and using force against persons in handcuffs. Racial bias training in addition to building skills in problem-solving, conflict mediation, and de-escalation tactics should be required. There is an insufficient amount of training focused on anti-racism, implicit bias, mental illness, age-appropriate responses, problem-solving, mediation or cultural competency. Lawrence City Commission should employ more civilian oversight bodies and independent investigations of alleged police misconduct. Police departments should not investigate themselves. Accountability systems should be directed by the communities that police departments are supposed to protect and serve. More transparency should involve improved data collection and reporting practices, which are necessary to expose interactions with law enforcement and as a tool of accountability. Police departments should collect and release this data to the public annually. None of these suggestions should require an increase in budget for police departments. These are actions that can make the current budget more effective.

What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

Financial incentives are usually the idea for financial incentives centered around job creation tax credits and job training grants. Jobs-related incentives focus on on-the-job training programs for new employees and can transition people into better paying jobs and help economic growth. For example, training grants that allow businesses to hire displaced workers help businesses recover the cost of training new employees during the pandemic. Job training grants and job creation tax credits will lead to greater tax generation, creation of jobs, opportunities for economic development, increased job retention and productivity, and the ability to address inequality. These are some of the economic benefits of increased access to quality, affordable housing. Inadequate housing for business expansion impedes economic development. As the cost of housing goes up in a community, people may not be able to afford to live there so they move further out. Moving further away from hot markets may be stopping people from working in locations with higher wages. This impedes the ability of businesses to hire workers and is not good for local economies.

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Incumbent Lisa Larsen, 61, is a retired environmental geologist who previously ran her own company. Larsen, who has lived in Lawrence since about 2000, was appointed by the City Commission to fill a vacancy in 2015 and ran to keep the seat in 2017. She finished with a significant lead over the other winning candidates and served as mayor in 2019. Issues that Larsen thinks will be key in the upcoming term are affordable housing, particularly distributing affordable housing projects more evenly throughout the city; stormwater management, particularly flooding in neighborhoods; and the remediation of environmental contamination at the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant.

– What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

For retail, entertainment, and restaurants to thrive in our downtown, it is imperative that we increase the housing density. Housing that has a mix of affordable and market rate places would be the best way to encourage a mix of all incomes to live downtown.

As indicated in the Downtown Master Plan, the development of a city owned parking lot into a commercial and residential space should be seriously considered. This would have to be done in a balanced measure coupled with the possibility of adding a parking garage for lost parking spaces. There would need to be significant community input to determine the best approach to making this change.

Development of the riverfront could bring one of the biggest positive assets to the downtown. Development that includes commercial and residential adjacent to the river, and recreation near and on the river would fit with our downtown character. There are a few organizations that have been working on plans for developing a riverfront recreation area that ties into the larger picture of our Loop and parks near the river. There are also state and federal funding opportunities that could provide some of the funding to make this a reality.

Development of the south end of Massachusetts at 11th St. would be a great compliment to our downtown and would help beautify and solidify the economic and living experience that our downtown offers.

When looking at the whole of downtown, I believe development of the riverfront coupled with development at the south end of Mass at 11th St. would add great bookends to our downtown and effectively stretch the economic and livable viability along the entire length of Massachusetts.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?


The recently completed police study provided 75 recommendations. We are currently developing a plan to implement the needed changes based on these findings and recommendations.

There were two findings in the report that stood out: 1) the need for better data tracking, and 2) the need to “embrace best practices in community policing, engagement founded in individual interactions, and partnerships with stakeholders.” The report did indicate that there is some community engagement that has occurred, however, not enough to truly embrace and understand the community’s needs. Successfully implementing a community policing model that has a foundation in trust will require extensive listening and working with the community to develop and implement plans that reflect this needed change.

— What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

In 2017, I voted to approve a program that would successfully bring two new manufacturing firms to Lawrence that offer pay that is at or above the living wage, and was the impetus to the expansion of three other existing manufacturing firms that have been in Lawrence for decades. The new firms are located at Venture Park which had been vacant since the city took over the property in 2010. These developments have brought over $46 million dollars of capital investment into our community with the prospect of another $34 million for future expansion. These types of investments coupled with jobs that pay above the living wage should be one of the paths that we continue to follow.

The influx of manufacturers into Venture Park has opened the need to look for other areas in Lawrence that would fit the need for land development of manufacturing type businesses. These plans can take years to develop so it is important that we move towards finding these types of properties now.

In addition to manufacturing, we need to foster support for smaller businesses with the possibility of developing similar programs that would encourage growth in new and existing small businesses that have chosen to invest in Lawrence.

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Bart Littlejohn, 44, is the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board chair and the former chair of the Pinckney Neighborhood Association. Littlejohn has lived in Lawrence since 1995 is currently the marketing manager for Pinnacle Technology Inc. and a member of the Douglas County Community Health Plan Steering Committee. Littlejohn was previously involved in Junior Achievement and the Lawrence St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Littlejohn said important issues for him are equity, particularly the ability for everyone to have a healthy and a safe place to live; housing, particularly affordability, availability and homelessness; and economic development, including for those already living here, those graduating from college, and front-line workers.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

Hello everyone. Lawrence is a great town, Lawrence is our town, but Lawrence can be better.  We need to figure out creative solutions to make sure that our downtown is as thriving and welcoming as possible, we need to determine our relationship with our police department, and we need to assess how we would like our economic development to work for us.

I’ve had the opportunity to view the forums regarding the Downtown Master Plan and have been impressed with depth and consideration of the solutions presented to help our downtown as well as the feedback received from the citizens of Lawrence. A number of great ideas have been put forth; everything from vacancy taxes, to startup incubators, a permanent farmer’s market, riverfront development, to a reinvigoration of housing specific to the area. Additionally, I was happy to see that woven through these discussions was an emphasis on affordable housing and resources for BIPOC owned businesses. 

Coming out of the pandemic, our small businesses and our frontline workers desperately need our help; and we need theirs.  They are the engine that helps our town go.  By helping them it will lead to more businesses, people, and vitality for our downtown.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?

I believe that we need our police department. But in order for them to be effective, we must make sure that there is accountability, oversight, and transparency.

Many times, we ask them to do too much.  We should continue to make sure that there are mental health and social service professionals alongside the police to handle those calls that might not necessarily require a use of force.  These officers are usually placed under varied high stress situations so we must make sure that they have support to navigate them.  Conversely, it is imperative that they are accountable for their actions through distinct measurables and that we maintain the quality of our force.

All of this should be within the scope of a program that communicates their problems when they happen, not at the last possible moment.  That transparency is the only way that we’ll regain the trust that has been waning in one of our most important city services.

— What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

I think that the best way we can attract higher paying jobs to the city is to make sure that the people that we are recruiting see the level of commitment and resources for our residents.  Especially since the pandemic, work/life balance has shifted so that where they live is more important than where they work.

This can happen if we improve our infrastructure; make sure that we can supply enough affordable, available, and diverse housing stock; have enough visible resources to help folks maintain and gain homes, provide the support/resources for our small businesses and workforce, and those who are living on the margins or underrepresented.

Attracting high paying jobs to the city is a part of the puzzle but not the entire thing.  I don’t think we should limit ourselves to only high paying jobs as there are not just those higher paid folks who currently work in the city.  I believe if we have a healthy mix in our recruitment it will help to maintain the flexibility of our local economy.

We have a lot ahead of us, but I am convinced we are up to the task.  This town doesn’t run from challenges and this will be no different. I’m asking for your feedback on the issues above and to join me in tackling them; because I continue to believe that we are the strongest when we work together for those who have the least

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Shawn Pearson, 50, is a recently returned Lawrence resident and businessman. Pearson is currently vice president of strategy at U.S. Bank, and he said that although his home office remains in Minneapolis, he decided to move back to Lawrence in February after his job allowed him to work remotely. Pearson has previously been a volunteer for the Special Olympics and the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentorship program. Pearson said important issues for him are police reform, which he said would be the important action the commission would take in the coming term; addressing environmental issues and climate change; and providing a high quality of life for everyone who lives in the community, regardless of background.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

I would like to see downtown Lawrence thrive and for that to happen I believe in small business incentives to entice new businesses as Covid took quite a toll.  I also would like more parking garages available within a block or 2 of Mass St and removal of the take out spots to allow for more parking options.  Finally I would like to see work down on the riverfront area, it has unrealized potential.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?

I focus on Evolving the Police and some major steps need to be taken for more trust between the LPD and the citizens of Lawrence.  I do believe more minority hiring is needed and believe seeing more officers on foot downtown Lawrence and in bicycles throughout the community will foster a more community oriented approach.

— What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

To help attract new business the City Commission should support expanding the footprint of Lawrence and building more public/private partnerships to attract new business to the area.  Small to medium sized business are the heartbeat of the Lawerence economy.  I believe in tax incentives to bring new businesses to town, in particular incubators and innovation companies.

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Milton Scott, 59, is a community volunteer and retired public housing administrator. Scott has lived in Lawrence since 1980 and formerly worked for the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority and the Kansas City, Kansas Housing Authority. He currently serves as the treasurer of the faith-based advocacy group Justice Matters and has served as the chair of the Trustees’ Ministry at the Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church for several years, among other volunteer roles. Scott, who grew up in public housing, said important issues for him are addressing affordable housing and homelessness; high city utility rates and their impact on affordability; and infrastructure, particularly projects with high neighborhood impact.

– What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

It is important that we thoroughly examine the recent downtown Lawrence study and its recommendations. I support the recommendations to maintain the historic preservation of downtown, acquiring a permanent place for the Lawrence Farmer’s Market, the establishment of a small business development center, business incubators or popups, to provide a startup program and improve police presence at peak times. In addition, I would like to explore ways to permanently enhance the outdoor dining and shopping expereince for downtown Lawrence.

— What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?

I support policies that increase community engagement including establishing community partner-based policing solutions, alternative response systems, and improving upon race relations and communications to remove the disconnect with racial and ethnic groups. In addition, I support efforts to strengthen the role of the Police Review Board by enacting more authority to review complaints and complements. Overall, the Police Department needs to develop better transparency that will ultimately build community trust. We are all in this together and we need to ensure that we hear from the Lawrence community at large including the rank and file police who interact the most with the citizens.

In addition, I support measures of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 which prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement, and requires law enforcement to collect data on all investigatory activities. It establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches. It will support critical community-based programs to change the culture of law enforcement and empower our communities to reimagine public safety in an equitable and just way.

— What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

Both the City of Lawrence and Douglas County should encourage regional efforts to achieve further economic development opportunities by bringing other towns and cities in the region to the table, i.e., Baldwin City, the City of Eudora, the City of Lecompton and the City of Topeka. In addition, I support focusing on homegrown talent, developing apprenticeships, nurturing alternative education, and reducing barriers to entry in the workforce such as the lack of transportation and affordable child care.

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Amber Sellers, 40, is Human Relations Commission Chair and a member of the local League of Women Voters. Sellers, who previously lived in Lawrence for about 10 years before relocating for work, returned to Lawrence in 2019. She is currently a regulation specialist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Bureau of Family Health, where she works on public policy affecting women and children. Sellers said important issues for her are affordable housing and the need to develop a citywide plan to address shortages; economic development and the need to retrain and reposition people in the community who can help meet employment needs; and the need to focus on what she called “human infrastructure,” such as affordable child care.

What changes, if any, would you most like to see in downtown Lawrence?

I want to see people come first; to experience the radical hospitality Downtown has to offer and to feel vested in a community where folks want to stay, live, and grow. We can move towards this vision utilizing the following people-first strategies:

Repurpose the Riverfront property to include a usable convention/meeting space

Redesign public hardscapes and parklets to offer communal spaces and to pull the community downtown.

Create affordable commercial and residential mixed use development that supports minority and diverse small business infill.

Building a covered farmer’s market pavilion to better support small business owners and farmers by keeping dollars circulating within the community for a longer season and allowing the space to be multifunctional.

Reimagine current ordinances to identify potential conflicts between historic preservation and innovation in planning and strategies for economic development.

Visioning aside, there are historic equity issues that persist today Downtown. I would like us to bring all of these visions ahead in a way that is truly equitable. I plan to be part of the policy shifts and innovative solutions that are needed to bring this to fruition.

What changes, if any, would you most like to see regarding how the police department operates?

I firmly believe public health and safety are intertwined with social justice. After reviewing the reports from CityGate, the Community Police Review Board, and the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice, I see that the Department must identify measurable outcomes and strategies to operationalize equitable policing in practice, policy, and training pedagogy. There must be intent to connect resources with the needs of the people and ensure that social services efficiently support our community. CityGate identified four high-priority dispatch calls — domestic disturbance, domestic battery, car accidents and overdoses — that center around social issues. I would like to see the Department address these social issues through collaborative strategies with community agencies to reduce those types of calls.

I would like to see engaged consensus-building with the community to amend our policies on no-knock search warrants as well as a complete ban on chokeholds in any instance. Last, I would like to see the police department work with our Director of Equity and Inclusion and the Community Police Review Board (CPRB) to draft a community engagement plan that provides recommendations to update the police department’s internal and external processes for filing complaints.

— What can the City Commission do to attract or promote higher paying jobs?

I recognize that the City currently has metrics in place to utilize tax abatements and other incentives to drive economic development that allows the City to recoup funds from businesses if metrics are not met. The deployment of city-funded incentives need align with the goals and objectives outlined in the City’s economic development policy. Doing so ensures use of incentives to support projects that address workforce needs and growth at a greater level than through taxpayer investment alone.

Investing in innovation and economic development that leverages the assets of the city and the universities to attract high-paying, high-skilled innovative companies will position Lawrence for future jobs and industries that anchor us competitively in the region. Moving such initiatives forward will grow us into a community where people have a home and can work and thrive together.

The Commission must implement additional strategies that address economic development through a workforce lens, focusing on training, retraining, and repositioning individuals to meet immediate area employment needs. Working with established community partners such as the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center and area workforce centers is critical to the success of this model. Additionally, working with such partners as the Bioscience and Technology Business Center and local business leadership through Douglas Co. CORE will spur new industry growth that generates desirable, high-paying jobs.

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